A lot of clients come to us with multiple questions about protein. There is so much talk around this macronutrient and so many myths, that it is easy to get to a point where you don’t even know what to believe anymore. So, in this article I am going provide you with everything I have learned about protein in my nutrition classes and personal development, as well with some recommendations.
Let’s start with the basics: what is protein and why is it so important? Protein is a macronutrient made out of chains of amino-acids. Our body needs protein to:
1. Build muscle, cartilage, and skin.
2. Grow and repair bone and tissue.
3. Carry oxygen throughout the body.
5. Regulate hormones.
There are three types of protein: complete, incomplete, and conditional. Complete protein has all essential amino acids, while incomplete does not. Conditional protein, on the other side, refers to the type of protein (amino acids) that is essential only under times of stress or illness. With that being said, let’s get a little bit more into depth in terms of the building blocks of protein, amino acids. There are 21 total amino acids, 11 non-essential and 9 essential. Non-essential amino acids are made by our bodies so it is not necessary for us to include them in our diets. On the other hand, essential amino acids are not made by our bodies so we must include them in our diets. The 9 essential amino acids are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Our protein sources must provide us with all of them in order to stay healthy.
So now you must be wondering, okay but how do I know how much protein do I need to stay healthy? The answer is simpler than you think. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) to meet your basic nutritional needs is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However, if you are an active person and/or athlete, that value needs to be within the 1-2 gr per kg of body weight. If you are trying to build muscle, lose fat, or are an elite athlete, then the recommendation would be in the upper limit of that range (1.8-2.0 gr per kg). That is all your body needs to reach any fitness or performance goal. However, there are some nutrition coaches that recommend to ingest more than that. Some people and coaches suggest to consume way more protein, under the premise that your body needs it or that “more is better”, but that is not the case. Granted, sometimes some diets have higher values of protein intake that work great when trying to lose weight. They are actually effective. They usually have a macro distribution where protein is at 40-50% of the total daily caloric intake. That approach can work, but I just want to make it clear that those super high values are not necessary to hit your goals or to keep you healthy. You can still be healthy and gain muscle with the values I provided at the beginning of this paragraph.
On that note, I also find worthwhile mentioning that protein shakes are a great option to get some extra protein that might be hard to squeeze in some of your meals. You do not have to be a body builder or athlete to be able to include protein shakes as a supplement in your diet. Just make sure you go for an option that has complete protein and that it does not have a bunch of added ingredients/chemicals. You now know the essential amino acids you need, so buy a product that has all of them (or most of them) and a few more other natural ingredients for flavor. Also, avoid consuming protein shakes along with a high protein meal since research has shown the body is capable of absorbing just 40 grams of protein at once, the rest will be eliminated through urine.
So there it is, all the basic information you need to know about protein. This is a subject that has gotten overcomplicated in the fitness industry. People are afraid of protein supplements or believe they need crazy amounts of this macronutrient, but the reality is that we don’t. Just keep the basics in mind and try to track your daily protein intake to make sure you’re hitting the values you need!